Leisurely we left our most serene islands for Verona, our first of may group trips to come. Verona was a stunning change from the lagoon. This is primarily because it was on land. It was strange to see buses and cars, sidewalks and trees. The things we thought would always feel more homey, were now a bit foreign.
Verona is clearly, unlike Venice, a living city. By that I mean that even in the relative low season of January, there are still normal people carrying on their lives, uninterrupted by the swarms of strangers that descend on holidays and for the annual summer opera festival. The festival is held in the roman amphitheater, one of the largest and most complete outside of Rome.
We arrived in the early afternoon. Starving after a rushed breakfast, we stopped at the first place we saw, a kabob shop on the way into town. After wolfing down one of the tastiest Egyptian wraps I've ever had, we started walking again. However, our noses soon picked up the scent of cannolis and coffee, and we were again diverted. I do believe it has become clear where this is going.
Yes, our romp around Verona could easily be traced by highlighting on the map the best smelling pasticerias, pizzerias, gelato shops, restaurants, and local delicatessens and connecting the dots. Along the way, we made a point to divert our attention to other objects of aesthetic import. These included some magnificent buildings and statues, most specifically the dozens of lions around the city. Why would a city like Verona, so far from a lion-inhabiting region, be so adorned?
Verona was for centuries, and to some degree still is, under the domination of it's local capital, Venice. Venice has since the 12 century considered itself the ecclesiastical descendent of Aquileia on the mainland because when the Lombards invaded there in the 6th and 7th centuries, the Bishop of Aquileia fled the terrafirma for the safety of the lagoon. The founder of the first church of Aquileia is St. Mark, who traveled to Italy with St. Peter. After Peter's crucifixion, Mark left Rome for northern Italy, before leaving Europe for Alexandria, where he was martyred. History has always a much more complicated answer than its questions let on. St. Mark's symbol has traditionally been the Lion. When Venice began establishing its own political identity independent of Byzantium, it chose St. Mark's Lion as it's representative.
For centuries the Veronese struggled over the question of subjection and independence. When Napoleon invaded Venice in 1797, he took all the lions in Verona, and every other Italian city, down. Since then however, many have been put back up. In a very interesting twist of history, culture, and economic interest, the Veronese are associating themselves with their vast history of subjection to Venice. This coincides with the development of the Northern League in Italian politics. This political party is united under the purpose of separating the north from the south of Italy. This also has helped in part the tourism increasing in the city, which is but an hour train ride from Venice.
Of course the city is most well known for the famous star-crossed lovers old Bill was inspired to write about here. Although the characters are completely fictional, there are quotes of the Bard of Avon on a dozen walls, as well as a house that claims to be Juliet's. On the walls are posted perhaps 10,000 love letters, to either character or reader. When we arrived there, about 200 Asian tourists were smiling and taking pictures, one at a time, with a hand over the breast of Juliet's statue.
That night of course we tested what the world considers is the greatest delicacy to be enjoyed in Verona: the Opera. The evening was marvelous. After what was until that point the most delicious meal I had yet that semester (as well as the first time I had eaten out since school started), La Boheme was the best desert that could have been served. Like a dense dark chocolate cake, bitter as well as sweet, with subtle tones of nuts or fruit that are detectable only to those that take the time to ponder and appreciate what is before them. The opera was a spectacle of such delight in the details, such power in the presentation, that I am certain if it did not leave me speechless, at least it left me no other voice than that to sing it's praises. Never before have I witnessed such beauty in tragedy.
Floating on such an air, we strolled back to the hotel, and departed for our watery home the next morning.